Lords of the Drinks

Roman Emperor Nero, the ultimate drunken megalomaniac


A statue of the Roman emperor Nero.

Alcohol is a wonderful substance and as you know, we are the last people to ever speak ill of it. However, we must admit that booze seems to be quite risky when combined with narcissist megalomaniacs. These people usually get very paranoid, violent and cruel. From the last 100 years Jozef Stalin comes to mind, but also people like Uday Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Un. Those last two remind a lot of the Roman emperor Nero, since all three were spoiled from an early age, destined for power and enjoyed to torture or kill people when drunk. This is the story of Nero, one of the most notorious Roman emperors and the ultimate drunken megalomaniac.

When Nero became emperor of the Roman Empire in the year 54, the people were already used to some drunks and nutjobs on the throne. The second Roman emperor Tiberius basically set the standard for  drunken orgies and would start the era that was known as the most drunken years among Roman nobility. Caligula and Claudius were notorious drunkards and Nero easily followed their example.

When Nero was born as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, it was quite unlikely that he would ever become emperor. But mother Agrippina, who was as manipulative as she was a stone cold killer, made it happen. Her third marriage was to emperor Claudius. Although he already had 2 children of his own, she convinced him to adopt Nero as his son. It’s widely believed that Agrippina then poisoned Claudius, like she had killed her second husband before, to free the way for her son.

In the beginning Nero was quite well loved by the Roman people, mostly because he was still following the advice of some tutors. However when the night came, he liked to get smashed with his entourage and roam the streets of Rome in search of other less fortunate drunks to beat up. Or if he would find a girl he liked, he would have his way with her and pay her a few coins for the trouble.

His drunken orgies were legendary. Even more than the emperors before him, since Nero didn’t see himself as a politician but more as an artist. At his parties he loved to ‘treat’ his guests to his own songs and  poems. He admired the refined culture of the ancient Greeks and looked down on the bloodshed in the arena. Shows with wild enemies and chariot races for sure were still okay, but gladiator fights soon belonged to the past. Somehow Nero convinced himself that his drunken gatherings were a blessing for the Roman culture.

Not that there wasn’t any blood shed at these occasions. Drunkards in the streets that had the nerves to fight back against their emperor in disguise were severely mutilated or worse. And at one of his bacchanalia Nero ordered someone to drink an enormous amount of wine for his amusement. When the drinker couldn’t drink as much as was ordered, Nero got into a rage and killed the poor man at the spot.

As the years went by, Nero got more paranoid and violent. He had his step brother Britannicus killed and later his wife Octavia (who was also his step sister) and his mother Agrippina. The Roman emperor also killed his new wife , the love of his life, when she told him she was pregnant when Nero was already drunk. He kicked her in the belly and with that he didn’t just kill the unborn baby but accidentally also his wife. This was a tough blow for Nero but soon he found a slave boy named Sporus that really looked like Sabina. So he had him castrated and dressed like the empress to ‘honor’ his late wife.

Another famous moment in Nero’s life was the great fire of Rome in the year 64. Although this was probably caused by some drunk guys at the market, Nero got the blame in the public opinion. To save his own behind he then passed the blame on to the Christian community, back then seen as a Jewish sect. He had around 5.000 Christians executed, which was completely unlike the emperor in the early days. Some of them were set on fire in the gardens of Nero’s palace as ‘entertainment’ for his drunken guests.

For 4  more years Nero stayed in power but it was a lost cause. Revolts started in the provinces, the Senate condemned him as an enemy of the state. Nero saw no other option than to stab himself in the neck after his last words: “What an artist dies with me.” Well, he might have been right about that one. But who didn’t die with him was a humble person, or a sober one.

Micky Bumbar

More drinkers that left their mark on the world’s history.